When Your Life Has Become Too Familiar

you visit the workshop of the Via Negativa Effigist

between the tattoo parlor & the fortune teller

& he sits you down on the red leather couch,

& while you describe the summer before your first kiss

begins your effigy with the dust from cities you should have visited.

For your skin, Egyptian cotton from the sheets of a hundred nights

with a lover you would never forget.

Starlight from those nights for the lunulae in your fingernails.

Rain from the way back for your dreams, since you did not go.

Ten wishes that didn’t come true for your hands.

For your collarbones & metacarpals, wood fragments of the violin you lost.

And for your eyes, two frozen tears from someone who will skip your wake.

Your hair the hair of the father you never met.

And now, here, in front of you, the life you couldn’t dream—

but which one of you will he gently place the torch upon?


Mark Wagenaar is the author of three award-winning poetry collections, including the Saltman Prize-winning “Southern Tongues Leave Us Shining,” just released from Red Hen Press. A two-time winner of the James Wright Poetry Prize and the Mary C. Mohr Poetry Prize, he is also a recent winner of the Mudfish Poetry Prize, the Pablo Neruda Prize, the Frontier Open Poetry Prize, the Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Award, and the Jeff Marks Memorial Poetry Prize, and his fiction and poetry appear widely, including in the New Yorker, Tin House, the Southern Review, Gulf Coast, the Cincinnati Review, 32 Poems, and River Styx, among many others. He is an assistant professor at Valparaiso University, a father of two, and the husband of poet Chelsea Wagenaar.